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A little crown-shaped yeasted brioche-like cake with a hole in the middle, that is baked then allowed to dry out and later soaked with a sweet aromatic syrup to which you add a strong alcohol and perhaps glaze it too so it could be shiny and then fill it up with pastry cream or just top it off with a flourish of whipped cream and then decorate it with candied fruits or soaked dried fruits … this is a BABA au WHATEVER ALCOHOL YOU LOVE for VALENTINE’S DAY !

Babas were not always soaked and flavored with a sweetened rum syrup, since different alcohols were added from the mid-18th century and on, to remoisten and sweeten cakes that had dried out and which allowed the cakes to absorb twice their dry weight in syrup and alcohol. Rum, but preferably a dark aged & spiced rum, has become the most common, but cognac or brandy is my preference, and why not whisky ?

In this recipe, we’re actually creating our own flavored syrup with an array of citrus juices and zests as well as warming spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and vanilla.

Despite the fact that people rarely prepare this dessert at home, it’s actually quite easy and extremely practical because the little cakes should be prepared in advance and ideally left to dry out, to better absorb the reheated syrup and alcohol. The syrup is prepared in advance and the alcohol is added to the reheated syrup only after it’s removed from the stovetop. And the rest, like some pastry cream in the middle, if that’s what you like, and the whipped cream and dried or candied fruits on top, are decorative and provide a colorful contrast.

I’ve tested it with different approaches and it seems like I’ve figured it out how to make it the easiest to prepare, to understand as well as to make it practical. In the end, you are simply assembling the different parts that make this dessert what it is.

The full recipe is for 12 mini cakes even though I show you only 8 in the photos but it’s easy to half the recipe, if you only need 6. 

The only difficulty would be in finding these little individual 90ml total volume savarin or mini-bundt molds that I have, made of silicone and actually used for making little soaps but any little individual, slightly cone-shaped tins or cupcake tins will also get the job done.

I add little notes and pointers to clear up any questions you may have and so that you have enough of everything for the assemblies.


spiced brandy & citrus babas


12 servings x 110 grams each


cake batter :

  • 250 grams (2 cups) white bread flour
  • 120 grams (½ cup) eggs
  • 60 grams (¼ cup) butter, soft
  • 65 grams (¼ cup) partly-skimmed milk
  • 25 grams (2 tbsp) sugar
  • 5 grams (1 tsp) instant dried yeast (increase to 7,5 grams or 1 ½ tsp if using regular dried yeast)
  • 2,5 grams (½ tsp) salt

syrup :

  • 250 ml (1 cup) citrus juice (1 large fruit each of orange & lemon & lime)
  • 250 ml (1 cup) water
  • 500 grams (2 ½ cups) golden cane sugar        
  • 5 grams (1 tbsp) orange peel
  • 2,5 grams (½ tbsp) lemon peel
  • 1 gram (1 tsp) lime peel
  • 2 grams (1 split) vanilla pod
  • 5 grams (1 whole) cinnamon stick
  • 1 gram (1 sliver) nutmeg
  • 1 gram (10 whole) cloves
  • 1 gram (5 whole) allspice peppercorns
  • 1 gram (2 cm) dried ginger (or 2 grams or 1 cm fresh ginger slices)
  • 1 gram (¼ tsp) fine sea salt
  • 180 ml (¾ cup) brandy or dark rum (added only at the end)
  • optional : 15 ml (1 tbsp) vanilla extract (added only at the end)

finishing glaze :

  • 75 grams (¼ cup) remaining syrup (without adding alcohol)
  • 3 grams (1 sheet) gelatin, softened in cold water

garnishes :

  • 120 grams (3 cups) whipped cream (slightly sweetened with icing sugar)
  • 45 grams (4 tbsp) diced candied citrus peel & fruits (and/or soaked raisins)


cakes :

  • warm up the milk slightly, then add 1 large pinch of flour and 1 small pinch of sugar, whisk, add the yeast and let sit for 15 minutes until slightly frothy
  • combine the flour with the salt and sugar and set aside
  • add half the milk and yeast mixture and 1 egg to the flour and mix, then add the remaining milk and yeast and egg and mix again until smoother, then add the soft butter and knead with your hands until smooth, working the soft butter into the dough
  • place the dough in a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours and up to 3 hours
  • brush some melted butter on the inside of your baking molds (sprinkle with flour too if using metal molds)
  • separate the dough into 12 balls and knead each ball in your palms again until springy, then make 1 hole in the middle of each with your finger and widen the hole and place each ball of dough inside your molds so the dough can rise again for another 60-90 minutes
  • *note : my little silicone molds measure 7 cm in diameter and are 3 cm high and can contain 90 ml of water when filled up to rim so the dough balls of dough that need to rise again should not weigh more than 35-45 grams each maximum and the molds should only be half full or less …
  • when the balls of dough have risen sufficiently (you can poke them with the tip of a floured finger and if they only spring back a little or slowly, they are ready and you can preheat the oven) preheat the oven to 200°C with a little oven-safe bowl of water on the floor of the oven 
  • place the baking dish with the molds inside the oven, lower the heat immediately to 175°C and bake for 13-15 minutes maximum on the lower or middle rack
  • remove the cakes from the oven, wait a few minutes and unmold them and if the underside seems too pale, place them back in the oven, upside down for 2-3 minutes to darken the tops a little more
  • *note : there is no need to worry about over-baking them since they should dry out later but try to give them a nice golden color and not burn marks so keep an eye on them as they bake …
  • place the baked cakes on a rack and let them cool down completely and ideally let them dry out slowly for 24-48 hours and then place inside a container until needed
  • *note : after baking, the little cakes lose approximately 15% of their moisture and weight, after 24 hours on a rack, they will lose another 5% in moisture and weight and after 48 hours another 5% again, so in total, the baked cakes lose 25% in all and will absorb more syrup this way …

soaking syrup :

  • slightly crush the spices and split the vanilla bean and slice some thick citrus peels add them to the total water in a small casserole and bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and let simmer for at least 15 minutes to absorb the most flavors possible
  • add the citrus juices and sugar to the hot spiced water, stir well, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes and set aside
  • *note : the syrup should ideally reduce by 25% (or 250 grams) to be thin enough for soaking and not as thick as honey and slightly less thick than maple syrup … it’s a good idea to weigh the casserole when empty, to write down that number and then weigh the syrup as it is cooking so you end up with approximately 750 grams of syrup (without the solids) since you started off with 1000 grams …
  • strain the syrup and set aside until needed, do not add the alcohol nor the vanilla extract (if using) until later when you will be reheating the syrup and assembling all or part of the cakes and reserve approximately ¼ cup or 75 grams of the syrup, before adding the alcohol and assembling the cakes for the finishing glaze (to be made later)
  • *note : I calculate 25% of the weight of the finished syrup and add that 25% calculation in brandy or rum, but you can add less or omit it entirely for young children …

assembly :

  • when you are ready to assemble all cakes or part of them, poke holes all over the little cakes with a thin metal skewer or toothpick (around 30 holes and set aside and prepare the dish for soaking or even better, individual teacups that have the shape of the inverted cakes
  • heat up the syrup until it just starts to simmer, then remove from the heat and add the brandy or rum and the vanilla extract
  • soak the cakes in batches or individually in teacups (around 60 grams of alcohol-infused syrup per cake), push down the cakes into the syrup if they float for 1 minute and then turn over to soak the other side until all the syrup has been absorbed
  • *note : each little cake will absorb up to 2 times its dry weight in syrup so a dry cake that weighs 30 grams will weigh between 90 and 95 grams when soaked, thus absorbing around 60 grams of syrup each …
  • place the cakes on a rack or on a plate and prepare the finishing glaze
  • gently heat up the syrup that you reserved before adding the alcohol (around 75 grams for 12 cakes) as you soak the sheet of gelatin in water for several minutes, then strain the softened gelatin and add it to the warmed syrup and stir until dissolved and wait several minutes for it to thicken like a jelly and brush each cake with the glaze and set aside (you can chill them or leave them at room temperature or even serve them slightly warm)
  • when ready to serve, place each cake in its serving plate, you can add some extra syrup on the bottom of the plate (if there is any left), add the whipped cream (in the hollow and on top) and sprinkle with the diced candied fruits or soaked raisins or even a candied cherry on top and serve.